Flamengo’s grieving families go uncompensated as club rakes in record revenues

By Samindra Kunti

February 7 – A year after the fatal fire at the Ninho do Urubu, Flamengo’s training centre, the families of seven victims remain entangled in a legal battle over compensation. 

This Saturday, February 8, marks the first anniversary of the fire, which killed ten of Flamengo’s youth players in the west zone of Rio de Janeiro. The youth players were housed in a row of six conjoined steel modular units, sharing a single exit, one of the many grave shortcomings of the makeshift dormitory, along with the absence of a caretaker, a federal requirement, and the grated windows.

During the fatal night, Athila Paixao (14), Arthur Vinicius de Barros Silva Freitas (14), Bernardo Pisetta (15), Christian Esmerio (15), Gedson Santos (14), Jorge Eduardo (15), Pablo Henrique (14), Samuel Thomas Rosa (15), Vitor Isaias (15), Rykelmo Vianna (16), failed to escape their accommodation as the fire swept through the structure.

Since then Flamengo has provided few explanations as to why ten of their youngest players perished in the fire. The structure had never been the subject of a fire inspection because Flamengo simply didn’t include the dormitory in the building plans. The City of Rio de Janeiro fined Flamengo 31 times for lacking proper fire certificates for other buildings at the site. In 2015, the State of Rio sued the club for poor conditions at the Ninho do Urubu, describing conditions for youth players as “even worse than those currently offered to juvenile delinquents.”

The club’s actions have stretched to little more than symbolic deeds to address the needs of the families of the victims. On Saturday, Flamengo will organise a mass and homage to the players at their game against Madureira in the local state championship.

In the course of the last 12 months, the club has fought tooth and nail to pay as little compensation as possible to the families of the ten boys. Flamengo proposed a compensation of 300,000 reais ($71,853) for each family and a ten-year minimum salary. Rio’s public prosecutor, however, demanded two million reais ($479,024) and 10,000 reais ($2,395) monthly until the respective youth players’ 45th birthdays.  In October, the public prosecutor imposed a temporary measure forcing Flamengo to pay 10,000 reais to the families until a final judicial decision, but the club quickly appealed the ruling.

On Friday, Flamengo president Rodolfo Landim, vice director Rodrigo Dunshee and CEO Reinaldo Belotti as well as ex-president Eduardo Bandeira de Mello, Flavio Willeman and Alexandre Wrobel will be heard by a parliamentary committee of inquiry. Representatives of the fire department, city hall and the civil police have also been summoned.

So far, Flamengo has succeeded in agreeing compensation with three of the families, but the other families are holding out. In 2019, the Rio club enjoyed great success on the field after the arrival of Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus. The Rio giants went on to win a first domestic title since 2009 and conquered the Copa Libertadores.

As a consequence, the club registered a record revenue of 857 million reias [$204 million], spent a record of 161 million reais [$38 million] on new signings, and even agreed to pay former coach Dorival Junior 13 million reais [$3 million] in a dispute over pay arrears. This year, Flamengo could breach the frontier of one billion reais [$239 million], depending on the club’s performance in the major competitions.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1582400375labto1582400375ofdlr1582400375owedi1582400375sni@o1582400375fni1582400375